For many people, a zoo or wildlife park is the closest they’ll ever get to the world’s most fascinating wild animals. However, these creatures are often as dangerous as they are captivating.
Most people make sure they keep a safe distance from the animals they admire during a trip to the zoo, but some visitors find it difficult to resist the temptation of a closer look — or an awesome selfie. One woman recently experienced the traumatic consequences of this at Wildlife World Zoo near Phoenix, Arizona.
Too Close For Comfort
On Saturday, March 9, a woman climbed the barrier around a jaguar enclosure at Wildlife World Zoo, reportedly to take a selfie in front of the big cat. The animal reacted by attacking the woman, resulting in deep cuts to her arm that required immediate medical attention. Wildlife World Zoo, a licensed, private zoo, holds more than 6,000 animals and 600 species.
Non-Life Threatening Injuries
Wildlife World Zoo later tweeted about the incident, confirming that a guest “crossed over the barrier to get a photo, according to eye witnesses [sic].” The Zoo said that the guest “sustained non-life threatening injuries to their arm” from one of the female jaguars and was seen by paramedics. At this point, the incident was still being investigated, but the zoo stated that the jaguar remained inside its enclosure at all times.
Please understand why barriers are put in place. Sending prayers to the family tonight. pic.twitter.com/2MPb8bXhwR
— Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park (@ZooWildlife) March 10, 2019
One of the eyewitnesses, Adam Wilkerson, was visiting the zoo with his mother when they heard the woman scream.
“My mom runs up and takes her water bottle and shoves it through the cage near where the jaguar is,” said Wilkerson. “And the jaguar goes to let go of the girl to take the water bottle, and the claw just catches this girl’s sweater. So at that point, I see that it’s no longer attached to the girl’s actual arm.”
Captured On Camera
Wilkerson added that he grabbed the woman around her torso and pulled her back. He also managed to capture her injuries on film. During the graphic clip, the woman is shown breathing quickly and whimpering in pain. A zoo employee can also be heard saying the woman’s arm was in “pretty bad shape” and telling 911, “She’s doing OK… but her arm is like bad.”
Mickey Ollson, the owner of the zoo, said this was the second time the same jaguar had “swiped at someone.” The big cat scratched another visitor earlier that month. However, that visitor had also crossed the barrier around the jaguar enclosure.
“There’s no way to fix people crossing barriers,” said the owner. “We put substantial barriers there and if people cross them, they can get in trouble.”
History Of Aggression
Another visitor to Wildlife World Zoo, Jeff Allan, told ABC15 he was hurt by the same cat in the summer of 2018. He said he was reaching over the barrier to take a video when the animal clawed him.
“I never climbed over a barrier,” he said. “I never stepped over a barrier. I was behind the barrier and just reached my arm out.”
Unsuccessful Legal Action
Allan got eight stitches for his injury and later hired an attorney in the hope that the zoo would add more protection between visitors and the animals. However, his case never reached court.
“I didn’t even want money,” he said. “All my wife and I wanted was … I mean, a kid could cross over this barrier if he wanted to. If my 3-year-old grandson wanted to cross over this barrier he could do it.”
Not The Animal’s Fault
The female jaguar who carried out the attack is 4–5 years old. The zoo decided not to put her down because it “was not the animal’s fault and they would never harm an animal based on human behavior.”
Their decision was supported by social media users. Some people even threated never to go to the zoo again if they euthanized the animal. The woman was widely criticized for breaking the zoo’s rules and climbing the barrier.
She won’t be put down.
— Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park (@ZooWildlife) March 10, 2019
Supported By The Public
The zoo posted on Facebook to thank everyone who supported their decision not to euthanize the young jaguar. Their statement revealed that zoo officials met privately with the woman, who expressed regret for her role in the incident.
According to the zoo, she “did receive stitches, but was not admitted into the hospital and was home later that night.”
‘Let’s Get Some Good Pictures’
Initially, no identifying details about the woman attacked at the Wildlife World Zoo were released. However, shortly after the incident, she gave an interview.
Giving only her first name, Leanne, she said, “The black jaguar was up against the fence and we happened to be walking by and we said, ‘Hey let’s get some good pictures.'”
“I was in the wrong for leaning over the barrier,” Leanne admitted. “But I do think that maybe the zoo should look into moving their fence back.” She continued, “Anybody can reach out. I’m not the first, and if they don’t move the fence, I’m probably not going to be the last.”
Ultimately, she said she has learned her lesson.
“I never expected this,” she said. “I feel like we’re all human, we make mistakes and I learned my lesson.”
Safety Is The Main Concern
A spokeswoman from Wildlife World Zoo, Kristy Morcom, said the barriers at the park meet all guidelines required by federal law, but also confirmed that zoo officials were considering “all aspects of safety pertaining to this exhibit as well as throughout the entire park because that is our biggest concern.”
“People need to respect the barriers and understand they are put in place for the safety of everyone,” she added.
Fatal Lion Attack In India
The Wildlife World Zoo incident is one of several similar cases in recent years, where zoo visitors have been injured by animals. In January 2019, a man scaled a 20-foot wall at Punjab’s Chhatbir Zoo and entered a lion’s enclosure, where he was attacked by two of the four big cats. Zoo staff tried to scare away the animals, and tourists tried to distract the lions by beeping their car horns. But their attempts were futile, and the man later died in the hospital.
Injured By An Emu
Just a few days after the jaguar attack at the Wildlife World Zoo, a zookeeper at Adelaide Zoo was injured by Cecil the emu during feeding time. The keeper’s face and arms were injured after being scratched by Cecil, who had reportedly been off his food for a week, within an off-display area. After being kicked and scratched by the bird, the young female keeper was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment for minor injuries.
Like Any Wild Animal
Mark Smith, the curator at Adelaide Zoo, said the zoo had a very strict incident response policy.
“Emus are like any wild animal, they can be really gentle and occasionally they can behave in a way that you don’t expect,” he said. “We always have to be very respectful of the fact that it is a wild animal and just really exercise caution around them.”
The emu, which is native to Australia, is the second-largest living bird by height, after the ostrich.
Pinned Down By A Siberian Tiger
In November 2017, a female zookeeper in Russia was attacked by a Siberian tiger for almost 10 full minutes after getting trapped inside its enclosure at Kaliningrad Zoo. Nadezhda Srivastava was pinned down by the animal after she entered its compound to feed it.
Her life was only saved when zoo visitors distracted the animal by throwing large objects into its enclosure.
Violation Of Safety Regulations
Srivastava admitted she probably forgot to lock a gate when entering the compound. Zoo visitors watching the attack threw stones at the big cat and even hurled a table and bench into the enclosure to try to distract it long enough for the keeper to escape.
Srivastava said she believed her life was saved by a litter bin someone threw over the barrier, which irritated the tiger and made it pull away. The incident left Srivastava with several injuries, including broken ribs, lacerations on her hands and a shattered wrist. Following an official investigation, the keeper was formally accused of “a gross violation of safety regulations” for failing to lock a gate.
Two Tiger Attacks In San Francisco
In 2006 and 2007, two tiger attacks took place at the San Francisco Zoo, both involving a female Siberian tiger called Tatiana. In 2006, Tatiana bit a zookeeper on the arm during a public feeding, causing deep lacerations that required surgery. The keeper, Lori Komejan, was pulled to safety by two other keepers.
Robert Jenkins, the zoo’s director of animal care, said that Tatiana had no history of aggression toward humans and that it was not normal procedure to euthanize a big animal for this kind of behavior.
Trying To Save His Friend
In the 2007 attack, 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., died after being mauled by Tatiana as he tried to save his friend from the big cat.
The victim’s father, Carlos Sousa Sr., said, “He didn’t run. He tried to help his friend, and it was him who ended up getting it the worst.”
Two other men, brothers Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal, were seriously hurt, and police shot Tatiana dead during the incident.
Toddler In The Rhino Exhibit
On New Year’s Day 2019, a toddler fell into the rhino exhibit at Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida. Despite only being in the enclosure for about 10 seconds, she suffered serious injuries after being pushed by the rhinos’ snouts. The girl and her parents were in the enclosure as part of a hands-on experience with the animals when she slipped between the poles and ended up in the yard beside the two-ton creatures.
Another Rhino Attack
A second rhino incident took place in February 2019 at another Florida zoo, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. A zookeeper was struck by a rhino horn during a routine training session and taken to the hospital. Her injuries were caused by Archie, a 50-year-old male southern white rhino, who had “never done anything out of the ordinary,” according to the zoo’s executive director, Tony Vecchio.
Killed By A Lion In North Carolina
In December 2018, a 22-year-old intern working at Conservators Center in Caswell County, North Carolina, was killed after being attacked by a lion. The lion escaped from an enclosure during a routine cleaning and attacked Alexandra Black, who had recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in animal behavior. She had worked at the wildlife park for less than two weeks.
In a statement on Facebook, the Conservators Center said it was “devastated by the loss of a human life” and that it was “unclear” how the lion managed to get out of a locked area and into the area where Black and other team members were cleaning, under the supervision of a professionally trained keeper. The lion was shot and killed to enable the retrieval of Black’s body.
Freak Accident At U.K. Zoo
A “freak accident” at a U.K. zoo in May 2017 resulted in the death of a zookeeper. Rosa King was in a tiger enclosure at Hamerton Zoo Park in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, when she was killed by a rare Malayan male called Cicip. The zoo opted not to put Cicip down after King’s death, a decision supported by the victim’s family.
A post on the zoo’s Facebook page said that “at no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures, and at no point was public safety affected in any way.”
— CNN (@CNN) May 30, 2017
A full investigation into the circumstances leading to King’s death is still ongoing, with a pre-inquest review hearing listed for May 14, 2019, and the full inquest provisionally listed to be heard for two weeks in July 2019. Cicip was recently featured on the zoo’s Facebook page, feasting on a giant donated pumpkin.
In a statement, King’s parents described their daughter as “a dedicated professional when it came to her work [who had a] care and understanding of her animals that was a joy and privilege to behold.”
Wildlife Park Owner Attacked
In May 2018, a British wildlife park owner was attacked by one of his lions after going into the enclosure to investigate a strange smell. Mike Hodge was taken to the hospital after suffering neck and jaw injuries at the Marakele Animal Sanctuary in Thabazimbi, South Africa, which he set up with his wife in 2010. The zoo reportedly put the lion, believed to be called Shamba, down after the incident.
Are Zoos A Good Idea?
The recent incident at the Wildlife World Zoo near Phoenix, Arizona, has sparked debate about whether zoos are a good idea at all.
“We need to preserve more habitat for wild animals and stop consuming so much energy, resources and land,” wrote Twitter user Richard Campbell.
However, other tweeters expressed their support for zoos, saying they protect endangered species from extinction.
Zoos are just a bad idea. We need to preserve more habitat for wild animals and stop consuming so much energy, resources and land.
— Richard Campbell (@wrychrd) March 10, 2019
Respect For The Animals
Other people stressed the importance of respecting “beautiful and sometimes dangerous animals” that live in zoos. Many pointed out that if zoo visitors ignore the measures put in place for their safety, they risk their own lives, as well as the lives of the animals who might get put down if they injure guests.
Some Twitter users said Leanne should receive trespassing and criminal mischief charges and, at the very least, fined for climbing over the safety barrier.
Respecting these beautiful and sometimes dangerous animals is a must! If people keep ignoring the safety measures put in place it becomes dangerous for everyone, including these WILD creatures. @ZooWildlife #respecteverycreature
— Angelic (@ajbnaz97) March 10, 2019
Stay Safe At The Zoo
All zoos, wildlife parks and sanctuaries have their own official rules and guidelines to keep their visitors safe. Arguably, the most important rule is to never cross any fence or barrier within the zoo. It’s understandable to want to get great photographs of the magnificent creatures on display, but no selfie is worth risking your life for.